Best strategies for earning reknown before owning own kingdom?

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On my 3rd of 4th character and this one is focused on trade/bow/barter. On my previous playthroughs, I've earned renown early game by starting wars with factions and trying to win small-scale battles, but this is hard to sustain even with a good understanding of the tactics.

What are some solid and reliable ways to earn renown early game (without slaving away at groups of <20 looters)?
That could be viable. I've never messed with being a merc before, simply because I forgot it was a mechanic, but if I never planned on being in a kingdom anyways then it would probably work, and make it easier to take a single capitol later on.
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